Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Multi-functionality and technology: Case in point...The playground slide

Here, you'll find nothing too complex beyond a bunch of cute kids playing. Right? We know kids can be more innovative than the rest of us. I caught it on tape.

There are certain fundamental principles of the process of technological innovation to be gleaned in this video I made at the behest of some pride-filled children They were elated to have discovered something new. Neither a fossil nor a piece of shrapnel from WWI, items that until recently are more easily found in this slice of the planet, what these children discovered was that instead of going down the slide, which had likely become boring beyond compare after five years of THAT, they found a new use for it, doing some crazy Parkour, super-hero jumps right off the top. It was nearly six feet off the ground. They weren't analytic about it - these daily revelations are part of playtime. They watched each other and goaded one another on. Some of them took the jump fearlessly; one took the initial risk and the others followed along, eager to experience the mix of fear and triumph, not to be left out. They landed differently. Others didn't even conceive of taking the leap. Maybe they followed along on another day. They wanted others to take notice - they wanted to share their discovery.

Once we understand what the slide is for, what any technology is for (yes, the slide is a technology...), it just seems inevitable that we use it the way its design seems to suggest. Especially if is designed well. There is even an onomatopoeia to the word slide (say it slowly to yourself to hear it) which let's you know how to use one. The slide is nearly perfect in its precision and yet a seemingly ancillary aspect of its design as a part of this live "play-station" led to the joyful frenzy in the video. There is a sweet spot in envisioning the possibilities for a developer and children seem to be particularly keen in finding new uses for mundane things. Thinking parents love toys - or learning technologies- that are general usage because they inspire creativity. Blocks, Legos, or Lego Mixels which have the best of both worlds, a kit with lots of prompts to mix up the guys and create crazy, new monsters.
I love the Lego Mixel Chilbo - I'm sure the creator had Groucho Marx in mind... 

We don't truly know the uses/purposes/abuses of technologies until they're released into the wild. Technologies often don't conform to the designer's intent. Slides are for children, correct? Who knew that child-safety obsessed, aka helicopter parents, would start going down slides with their kids to *increase* their safety, leading to a rash of toddler tibial fractures on slides in the US. Playgrounds - designed for children. On that note, did the creators of the television know it would become the world's cheapest and most convenient babysitter?

This one uses pots and pans for drums and also to check himself out!

Though it would serve equally well as a coaster, I don't use my iPhone as one (well, not since the screen cracked as I'm afraid water will seep in). Our smart phones are generative as technologies, like those basic toys we love for our children. Now that they're understood as life management devices, developers can conceive of infinite uses for them through apps. Not the case with more specific technologies, designed to be single-use devices, but whose ultimate utiliti/es are for the world-at-large to decide.

Our nature is really to color outside of the lines. Go up the slide. Jump off the top of it. Then we're socialized out of that kind of behavior. Where are the playgrounds for adults? Think about the excitement of creativity in this video next time you tell your kid to follow the boring rules, and then follow their lead.

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